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Murphy Family Ranch
Murphy Family Ranch

Article contributed by Tonya Bina of Sky Hi Daily News, October 2009

 

As late as this summer, John Murphy, 94, mowed ditches on his ranch land and built a new fence. "You got to keep busy doing something," he said.
His longevity, he said smiling at wife Carolyn across the table, is owed to "having a good wife to keep you healthy."

And then he added, "and being stubborn and contrary, I guess." But, Carolyn believes John's secret to healthy aging is due to "hard physical labor from an early age," plus the privilege of being raised where there is good air, little junk food, fresh vegetables, fresh milk daily and ranch-harvested meat. Dancing and regular rodeo jaunts also don't hurt.

This week, the Murphys are pausing to acknowledge a 100-year milestone, when John's parents first bought the ranch in greater Granby. John Murphy was born in the family's white two-story ranch house, which still stands on the property, six years after his parents Anna (Rohracher) and James Murphy bought 160 acres from Leopold Mueller in 1909. He had purchased the land from the widow of Edward Weber, who was one of the Grand County commissioners shot in the Grand Lake shoot-out of 1883. Weber's grave is still surrounded by a white-picket fence, located just northwest from the Murphys' newer home.

Mother Anna had crossed the ocean from Austria in 1882 with her family, then in the spring of 1884, they walked over Rollins Pass from Ward to homestead at Eight-Mile Creek south of Granby. The town of Granby didn't sprout until the railroad came through in the early 1900s, so twice a year, the family would travel over Berthoud to Georgetown to buy groceries - a testament to the fortitude people had back then. "How often do you go for groceries now?" John asked. "Twice a day?"

Anna and James married in March of 1907 and had three children: Margaret, James and John. When John was just two years old, his father died and his mother was left to care for the ranch and the three young children. She later married Joseph Reinhardt who had the ranch above theirs.

Upon her death in 1952 at the age of 75, "The Middle Park Times" saluted Anna for having been "a hardy pioneer woman" who prided herself for her ability to horseback ride and milk cows, and called the latter a "fine art rather than a chore."

"It was a pleasure for her to sit down and milk cows," John said. "That's when she could rest. She would milk half of the cows while me and my step-dad milked the other half."

The ranch had about 35 cows, and the cream and milk they produced was shipped to Denver where it was sold. When the lettuce colonies came to the Granby area around the early 1920s, the Murphy ranch prospered selling milk and butter to local settlers.  "Where the airport is now, there was a shack or tent on every 10 acres over there," he said, "and five packing warehouses along the railroad." Even a section of Murphy land was leased to grow lettuce and spinach.

When young boys, John and his brother would sometimes find entertainment riding on the backs of calves in the barn - always out of sight from their mother who would have disapproved, he said. And the younger John would horseback to the Granby schoolhouse located across from the present day Granby Community Center.

Back then, Granby was barely a settlement, and the Murphys' closest neighbor was farther than a mile away. Granby, especially, has grown in the past 20 years, threatening the lifestyle he has known all his life. In the past, ranching families made up the community, and neighbors looked out for one another, he said. "There was kind of a togetherness," he said. "Now we don't have that."

Nodding to the golf courses and newer homes surrounding Granby proper, "We're losing it, losing all the ranchers," he said. "Like any piece of property, I hate to see it change hands, but progress happens and there's nothing you can do about it."

John Murphy began running the ranch in 1934 and his older brother James ran another ranch near Fraser, land the brothers originally had purchased together.
John's first wife Edith died during childbirth, and John became a single dad to a daughter and son who were 2 and 4 years old at the time, running the ranch and raising his children like his own mother did when he was a toddler.

At its height, John Murphy's commercial cattle operation had about 2,000 acres and about 120 pair of cows and calves, with the calves selling at the top of the market in Omaha. John said from working his land for hay through the years, he has found buffalo horns. "There must have been quite a few buffalo here in the 1800s," he said. The land has since been leased, split, and some shared with John's family, including daughter Jennifer Baker and son Steve Murphy.

Although the winters are no longer as harsh as he remembers them - "It would get 30 to 40 below for the whole month," he said - he and wife Carolyn now winter in Arizona. John met Carolyn in the 1970s, and the couple would dance at haunts such as the Circle H and Hazel Mosle's (now Johnson's Landing). "I just held the girls, and they did the dancing," John said. "She complained I held her too tight," he said, of Carolyn. "And she's been suffering every since."


 

 

Murphy Ranch
Murphy Ranch

It's hard to imagine that there was a life before all the new homes filled in the spaces of the spacious lands around our towns. With all the high-tech innovations and new homes rising, ranch-life as it was in the late 1800's isn't thought about much. We're visiting today with John Murphy of the Murphy Ranch to capture some of the labors of ranch-living as he remembers it--before it is all too forgotten.

The Murphy Ranch sits just outside of the Town of Granby and on a somewhat overcast morning, John Murphy is seen ambling down the road heading toward the cabin just above his log home where he enjoys life with his wife Carolyn. Driving next to him, I ask if he'd like a ride. "No", he said, "this is a good walk for me". In his hand he holds an electric bill that he is passing on to his tenant. He looks at the company car and asks, "Is that one of those hybrid cars?" I replied that it wasn't and he just shook his head.

John with his gentle face sits with Carolyn on the sofa and begins the story of the Murphy Ranch. Jim and Margaret were the oldest Murphy siblings; John being the youngest. It wasn't uncommon to ride to school on horseback. John attended school in Granby where the apartments now stand across from the Community Building. In the winter, the horses would be stabled in a barn by the Trading Post (now Grand Mountain Trading).

"On the ranch, we milked cows and sold cream," John said. "Mom sold a lot of butter too. She'd milk 5 gallons of cream and head to the depot. Most of the cream was shipped to Denver and Boulder. We had a well out back and Mom would store the butter in a bucket and put it down in the cold well-water. In the winter, we would saw off blocks of ice from the river and pack it in sawdust to store in the cold shed where we kept our meets. Meats were screened in. We raised goats for meat.

Our first electric poles were set in 1942. Got all the poles in past the Barnard Ranch. Then the war started in 1945. Before we had electricity, we used kerosene lanterns. Mom loved to read and she read by the light of oil lamps. We used kerosene lanterns to milk the cows and the wind would often blow the flame out. With no bathroom facilities, you would have to use the outhouse in the middle of the night. We'd go to bed early because we had no lights. It was dark except for the oil lamps. Once we had electricity, we stayed up longer and read the Farmer's Almanac and Capper's Weekly.

Every year we shipped 35 carloads of cattle to Omaha with cattle from Kremmling and North Park ranches (Linkes, Ainsleys, Sheriffs) and it was a big excitement for us. We'd ride in the caboose and travel back on the California Zephyr." After the war, Japanese families would live in colonies above the ranch. They helped harvest the lettuce fields. Lettuce was a big commodity and there were four packing plants set up on the riverbed. They shipped lettuce to Chicago, New York and Yuma, Arizona. They were hard working families. A lettuce warehouse was sitting where the Old Grand and Silver Spur Restaurant now sit. Lettuce was raised from Yampa to Tabernash in those early years. Suddenly, it disappeared because they found rust in the lettuce. Some say it was the soil.

"Things were tough but we always had meat and potatoes. Never missed a meal. The only thing we didn't have was fresh fruit. At birthdays, we always had a special treat of concord grapes. A juice guy would come every few weeks. We'd love to see him, and he loved to see us-Mom always fed him."  After the war, there were more responsibilities on the ranch. There was lots of physical, hard labor. Brother Jim was commissioner for two terms.

John and his family have seen a lot over the years. Like many other ranchers, they have seen and experienced it all. Unlike today with all the modern conveniences, their lives were much different then and few today would know what it was like in those early years. Each ranch story is different in its way, but all have the same backbone---hard working families with a labor of love for ranch-life.

Ranching in Western Colorado
Ranching in Western Colorado

Article contributed by Nichole Fuqua

 

Ranching in western Colorado first began in 1866 when Texas cowboys began moving cattle into western Colorado. With this rising growth of cattle into Colorado, ranching was forever changed and became a natural part of Colorado's society.

Although the idea of establishing cattle operations in the mountains did not appeal to many, the cattle and ranching industry in western
Colorado began to flourish in 1882. Three causes greatly influenced this move. First, the flat grass lands from Texas to Montana were unavailable. Second, the Ute Indian tribe were being run out and soon removed from the mountains of Colorado. Third, the grasses in western Colorado were abundantly nutritious, especially in the autumn.

 

When cattle ranches first began, it was organized chaos. Up until the 1930's, all of the land used by cattle ranchers was open-range land. During the winter months the cows lived in the lower valleys where snow accumulation was small. Once spring began the cows were then rounded up and moved to the high mountain tops. This spring round up usually took place in the early part of June, between the first and second hay cutting. The main goal of the spring round up was to gather and sort all of the cattle into their respective herds; unfortunately many herds intermixed because of the open-range. Along with the sorting of the cows, the calves that had been born earlier that spring were branded.

 

During the open-range era, brands on cattle were very important. Brands were used as a marker to distinguish between herds. Today, branding is still used along with ear tags. The fall round up usually began in the early fall and was completed in stages. The first stage, involved the gathering up of cows that were going to be sold at the market. These were the first to descend from the mountains. The rest of the cattle were then taken down from the mountain and released into the lower valleys to live during the winter months. The 1930's ended the open-range era which also brought an end to fall and spring round ups.

 

Family life on a cattle ranch was very different from normal life in a town. The cowboy's job demanded a lot of devotion and self motivation. The men of the family were often away from the house for days sometimes weeks at a time moving and tending to the cows.

 

The women of a cattle ranch lead very isolated lives. During the winter months traveling was unheard of. Once the snow began to melt the water's run off caused creeks and rivers to overflow, which caused traveling in the spring to be tough.  During the summer and early fall, gardening, food processing, house keeping, raising children, and the general ranch duties kept a woman busy.

 

The children of a cattle ranch were treated very maturely. By the age of five to the age of twelve kids were considered miniature adults. By the age of thirteen or fourteen most kids were able to perform heavy labor tasks around the farm. Ranch families exhibited very strict discipline toward the children of the house and felt very strongly in a child's education.

 

Cattle ranches are still found all over western Colorado. The attitude has changed throughout the years since the first cattle ranch began but some of the same traditions still exist. 

 

Sources: Reyher, Ken. High Country Cowboys. Montrose: Western Reflections Publishing Company, 2002.

Peters, Aaron. Cattle Drives & Trail Drivers. 2003. 8 Mar. 2008 http://www.co.wilbarger.tx.us/cattle.htm.

 

The Davison Ranch
The Davison Ranch

* Copyright 2006.
No portion of this story or photos may be reproduced without the written permission of Gary or Sue Hodgson (www.hodsonmedia.com)  

Early morning, mid January in Colorado's Middle Park is not for the faint of heart. It's forty below zero. Six inches of new snow have fallen over night, adding to the three feet that have been building since early November. Ranchers in the area don't even bother to look at the breath taking beauty of the Gore Range to the West as they trudge to the barn. Their minds are focused on hope the big diesel tractors will start. Snow has to be moved and cattle fed. Life in these parts revolves around "feeding". Soon, ranch yards will be full of diesel engines belching black smoke clouds. Up and down U.S. Highway 40, this scene is repeated on ranch after ranch ... except for one. 

Just south of mile marker 169, a landmark rendered meaningless by snow much taller than the signpost, sets the Davison Ranch. Several hundred cattle wait semi-patiently to be fed in the surrounding meadows, yet there are no black smoke clouds or clattering engines. One might think the ranch deserted were it not for muffled sounds creeping through the huge log walls of the old tin roofed barn. Inside, a crew of five are performing a morning ritual that began in late November and will be repeated, regardless of the weather, seven days a week until mid May.  Mark, Molly, Dolly, Nip and Tuck are getting ready to feed.  

A crew this small is rather unusual for a ranch that encompasses over 6,000 acres. More notable, only one member is a man. The other four are horses, big, stout, work hardened draft horses. Standing on the wooden planked floor, side by side, surrounded by logs a man could hardly put his arms around, are four beautiful black and white Spotted Draft Horses. While not rare, the National Spotted Draft Horse Association celebrated it's tenth anniversary in 2005, the spotted giants are not a common sight. It is fitting such unusual horses would be found on this ranch. The big black and whites fit right into a program in place nearly fifty years. Mark Davison relates the Davison Ranch history as he harnesses the big "Spots." 

Mark's father, Charles Edward "Tommy" Davison, had been saving to buy a ranch since he was six years old. When the old place north of Kremmling came up for sale, the young bachelor fulfilled his life long dream. Tommy made a few observations. The ranch did not produce gasoline for the old tractors that came with the ranch. It did grow grass to power the two long ignored draft horses, also included. Then, there was the snow to deal with. It seemed easier for horses to pull a sled full of hay on top of the snow than trying to drive a tractor through it. The ranch was strewn with old harness and equipment including an ancient hay sled and various hitch components. He was single with an old house to spend the winter nights in. Why not spend a little more time outside with the animals he so loved.  

Not all of Tommy's plans went according to schedule. The hay laddened sled required more horsepower than his two horses. Two more "kinda" draft horses joined them. The old log house burned to the ground in December that first year. Hurriedly, he built a small cabin to live in until another house could be constructed. In 1958 he met and married Laurayne Brown. The Kremmling native beauty was used to the harsh winters and loved the big horses. Tommy and Laurayne made as good a team as Nip and Beauty, one of the better teams they would own in those days. As the ranch grew they realized they needed more help. New Year's Day 1960 they interviewed a likely prospect. Jerry Nauta sat at the Davison kitchen table as they talked. Finally, he uttered memorable words. "If you treat me right," he said, "I will never leave this ranch." Addressing Laurayne he went on, "I will probably eat more meals at this dinner table than you will." 

Although the ranch owned several tractors as much work as possible was done with the horses. The ranch's hay crop, wonderful sweet smelling Meadow Brome, Timothy and Red Top was put into giant loose hay stacks. No need for big gas guzzling tractors pulling expensive balers on this ranch. A few other ranches also kept draft horses in those days. A big attraction at Kremmling's Middle Park Fair was the draft horse pull. Ranchers from neighboring North Park descended on the event with their horses, toughened by a summer of harvesting the Park's huge hay meadows. Most years they returned to their home valley with the Middle Park trophy. Tommy decided enough was enough. Even though he had never competed before, his team of the skittish Nip and gentle Beauty who scarcely knew a day out of harness, left the "invaders from the north" in their dust. The trio returned several more years, winning every single time. Finally, a bad referee's call moved another team into first place. Tommy, Nip and Beauty never entered again. It wasn't necessary. They had proven their point. 

During those years, money would sometimes be so tight the loyal employee Jerry couldn't be paid. Tommy would sign a promissory note to him for wages. He was always repaid, with interest. Tommy told friends, "Jerry is my banker!" Jerry became a third parent to the three boys born to Tommy and Laurayne, Matt, Mark and Cal. They joined the early morning harnessing ritual, standing on a milk stool to reach the big horses under this watchful eye. When their father suffered a broken leg followed by a ruptured appendix, the boys, averaging ten years old, stepped into rolls as hired men. They calved cows, lambed the ewes in residence on the ranch in those years and, of course, harnessed and drove the teams to feed. If harnessing and driving a four horse hitch wasn't enough of a challenge, the feeding process creates men as tough as the animals pulling the heavy sled. Up to three tons of long stemmed loose hay have to be pitched onto the sled. Once the feed grounds were reached, every single blade is forked onto the ground as the patient team slowly moves ahead of the hungry cattle. Most days three or more loads were required to complete the task.           

Tommy Davison fell ill in 2000. Mark who had remained involved in ranch operations while establishing another ranch in Wyoming, returned to the Kremmling ranch full time to oversee operations there. When Charles Edward Davison passed away in 2001, Mark leased the ranch from his family. Just as his father had done nearly fifty years ago, Mark took stock of what he had to work with. The harness, some nearly 100 years old purchased here and there over the years was in pretty good shape. The horses, however, had grown too old to be worked every day. He needed two more to complete his four horse hitch. Harley Troyer?s well known Colorado Draft Horse and Equipment Auction was coming up in Brighton, Colorado. Mark traveled to the "flat lands" and returned with two roan Belgium geldings. Sadly, one died within a year. He tried a "unicorn hitch" placing a single lead in front of the wheel team. It was not practical for the loads and trails they encountered. Mark headed back to Troyer's Auction once again. A novelty of the upcoming event was a pair of black and white Spotted Draft horses originating from Canada. When he arrived at the auction Davison found not two, but four of the Spots, two geldings and two mares. All were only two years old. To most, the big youngsters would need years of seasoning before they would be dependable. A lifetime spent around draft horses gave Mark Davison a different view.. He noticed how much time previous owners seemed to have spent with them. It showed in their responsiveness and manners. Auction owner Troyer remembers them as "A nice four up." When his gavel fell, all four were headed to Kremmling.

Today, as nearly every day of the year, the wheel team of Nip on the left and Tuck to the right of the wooden tongue, follow the lead team of Molly and Dolly, left and right respectively. They begin pulling when Mark softly commands "gitup" and stop when told to "whoa-a." Armed with an antique True Temper three tine pitch fork (this model is no longer made according to Mark) he hardly notices their direction as he pitches hay to the trailing cattle. The scene is spell binding to anyone fortunate enough to see it. Soft commands, creaking leather and steel clad wooden sled runners gliding over the snow summon long forgotten instincts. 

Though Mark describes himself as a "Dinosaur," all that happens on the Davison Ranch is part of a plan that arose from necessity. He points out that when hitched to the sled, only the wheel team is attached to the tongue. The lead team's evener, an antique itself, is attached to a log chain r nning back to the front of the sled, not attached to the tongue in anyway.  Tight corners the team must navigate winding into the mountains to feed the cow herd make a conventional arrangement dangerous. If the wheel team follows the lead teams tracks too closely, the sled would cut the corner and plunge off the precarious road. The loose chain arrangement allows both sets of horses freedom to follow their own path. The horses, sensing their safety as the reason for the odd arrangement, work quietly beside the chain. If one happens to step over it, the next step will be back into place without so much as a twitch of an ear.  

Feeding begins around 8:00 a.m. The teams are usually back in their stalls eating "lunch" by 2:00 p.m.  Six hours, eight tons of hay and nearly ten miles every single day make the horses tough and strong. They symbolize the word that describes life on the Davison Ranch. Harmony. The horses work in harmony with each other and their care taker. Horses and man work in harmony with nature. There is a strong respect for tradition on the Davison Ranch. The old ways made sense then and now. There is no need for electric engine heaters or big diesel engines on this ranch. The beautiful black and white horses seem to be thankful for the chance to live the life for which they were bred. They express their gratitude with loyalty to Mark Davison.  

Loyalty might also be used to describe the Davison Ranch business plan. Remember Jerry Nauta's pledge to never leave the ranch if they treated him right?  Jerry lived in the small cabin Tommy Davison built when the ranch house burned down from January 1, 1960 until a few months before his death in July 2005. He was 92 years old.

Life is different on the Davison Ranch. Old fashioned values reign amidst modern Spotted versions of man's first and perhaps best machinery, the draft horse. Men and horses are a lot alike, you know. Treat 'em right and they'll reward you with loyalty.

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Rundell & French - Two families of the Sheephorn

October 2009

Here we have a story of two families, who became intertwined in a far away place where there weren't too many people. In fact, there was only a handful.  Three young fellows, the Rundell boys, came from Wisconsin about 1880, to settle on the Sheephorn, an area in the very southwest corner of Grand County.

Al, the oldest brother, chose land on the Upper Sheephorn.  While he was at it, he established a much-needed ferry across the Grand River at today's Rancho Del Rio.  His brother Clarence homesteaded land on the same stream some two miles above the Midland Trail, known to us as the Trough Road. The only home he could afford for a couple of years was a dugout under the creek bank.  That tended to be damp and dingy, but Clarence hung in.  Finally he was able to build a cabin uphill from the stream. Newspapers used as insulation on his cabin walls show the year to be 1882.  Clarence was pleased with his house.  "Now I feel I've really put down roots and am here to stay!" he exclaimed.

Their young brother, Ernest, was frail, for he had suffered all his life from lung trouble.   Still, he loved working with Clarence.  One summer, they were digging a water ditch near Azure, on the Grand, above Radium; Ernest caught pneumonia and died. The poor boy was only about sixteen. Clarence never got over his brother's death and he gave land for a cemetery, where he buried Ernest, the first person there.

The second family were the Rundell boys' neighbors, Charlie French and his older brother, Harry, Jr. who had "hit town" from Iowa just about the same time.  Harry homesteaded upstream from Clarence and anticipated ranching.  By and by, though, Harry remarked to Charlie, "I've discovered I'm not much of a hand at ranching and besides, my land isn't very fertile.  I think I'll sell it and become a U.S. Forest Ranger instead.  If they'll have me." He easily passed the test and soon transferred to the little community of Azure.

Now, Charlie French was a wonderful musician, a whiz at playing the fiddle.  He missed making music with their sister Phoebe.  "You know, Harry," he said one day.  "I'd really like Phoebe to come out and see this country. I'm sure she'd like it.  And besides, we could play together again."

He urged her several times to come visit.  At last she agreed, traveling by train to Leadville, then to Wolcott.  About then, Charlie started to worry.   "Phoebe's only 18," he thought, "and she's such a lady. Is it proper to expect her to ride sidesaddle all the way in from Wolcott?"  He stopped by to see Clarence Rundell.  "Clarence, do you suppose you could take your buggy to Wolcott and pick up our Phoebe?"  He explained the circumstances. "Why, I'd be delighted," answered his friend.

It was a happy development.  At the station Clarence saw a lovely young woman, tall and slender, obviously well-educated.  He soon found she had a beautiful soprano voice and was an accomplished musician who could play both piano and organ.  He took to Phoebe right away, and she, to him.  It wasn't long before the two decided to marry.

Now the French boys' parents, Harry, Sr. and Mary, sold their Iowa farm about now and homesteaded at Azure, to be near their boys, even though Charlie left the country soon after.  Here the old folks remained for many years.  They also had some land up the Little Sheephorn, which they gave Phoebe as a dowry, when Clarence and Phoebe decided to wed.  Shortly after, the happy young couple married and made the little cabin their home.

Their three children were born here, Ernest, named after the brother who died, Marie, and Helen.  Clarence worked very hard, ranching in the summer and cutting logs in the winter.  The young folks were thrifty.  In 1908, Clarence sold his homestead to a Swiss newcomer and bought land above his original site. By 1912, Clarence and Phoebe built a fine three-story house, complete with beautiful hardwood floors.  It was wonderful place to raise the children.  "This will surely be our home forever!"

Harry French, Sr., died in 1924.   "Mother," invited Phoebe, "move in with us, since you're alone now." Mary did this, but then she returned to Iowa to stay with her sister, until her death.  The French name continues on, however, for there are two French Creeks in the Sheephorn area.

Finally, the Rundells decided to buy a home in north Denver and to invest in an apartment house.  All went well until 1928, when everything fell apart at the beginning of the Depression.   Clarence lost nearly everything. "Let's go back to the ranch, Phoebe," he said.  "I still have my 300-400 head of cattle; I know ranching and love it.  Let's go."  Thus they left city life and returned to their ranching roots.

Topic: Regions

The Blue

Because gold had been found at the headwaters of the Blue River at Breckenridge, hopes were high among prospectors who worked the downstream tributaries in Grand County.  However, this lower section of the Blue contained no mineral wealth. 

The Denver and Rio Grand Railroad planned to run a route through the valley and began constructing grades, but the tracks were never laid because Moffatt's railroad crossed the county first.

An enterprising Canadian, 25 year old Willis Charles Call, had been employed as a cook for the grading company in 1881.  When the railroad abandoned the project, Call became a registrar of voters, and in 1886, the county assessor.  By 1890, he had a choice ranch near Kremmling.  His Austrian wife, Mary Rohrocher, was a very popular hostess.  It is believed that they owned the first automobile in the county.

The conflicts between the white settles and Ute Indians came to a climax in 1878 when the Ute leader Tabernash was killed by a posse and the very next day, Abraham Elliott a homesteader on the Blue, was killed in retaliation.  The remains of his ranch can be seen on Highway 9 at mile marker 135. 

Across the river was the ranch of Henry Yust, who settled there in 1885.  Another early ranching family was that of Thomas Pharo, An Englishman from Franham in Surry, near London.  Settling there in 1880, he developed a major cattle and horse ranch. 

The Blue River area was connected with a route west in 1913, when the co-called Trough Road was constructed, beside the Gore Canyon to State Bridge.

Topic: Agriculture

Agriculture of Grand County

The first settlers in Granby realized the sunny days and cool nights were perfect for growing one crop in particular, lettuce. Lettuce farming boomed in the 1920's and a new industry was born. Granby had become an important railway center as tracks were laid over the Divide at Rollins Pass,giving the Moffat Railroad access to Salt Lake City.

Granby produced some of the best-known lettuce in America. There are even tales that New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bragged of their “Granby Lettuce” on the menu. Then a blight settled into the soil, probably brought in by the wooden crates used for shipping, and the lettuce business was ruined. Since then, ranching has replaced agriculture as Granby's major industry.

Stage and Freight Lines

Berthoud Pass Stage Road was built by the extreme efforts of Captain Lewis Gaskill.  It came from the top of the Pass through Spruce Lodge, Idlewild (now Winter Park), the Cozens Ranch (near Fraser) Junction Ranch (Tabernash) and Coulter.  From there once branch lead over Cottonwood Divide to Hot Sulphur Springs (and points west) while the other went to Selak’s and over Coffey Divide to the Lehman Post Office and on to Grand Lake.  

At the summit of Berthoud Pass there was a large house of hewn logs, occupied by Lewis Gaskill and his family.  They collected the tolls for the road and gave welcome shelter to those weathering the variable passage.  The house was located on the West side of current Hwy. 40 but no trace of the building remains.  

At the steepest portion of the west side of Berthoud Pass was the Spruce House rest stop, which by 1900 was a sold structure of two and a half stories.  There the traveler could find a warm meal and corral for livestock.  No trace of it remains today.  

The Idlewild Stage Stop was located in present day Winter Park and was a popular place to change horses before the steep assent up the pass.  Mrs. Ed Evans served a hearty noonday meal there for only 35 cents.

Cozens Ranch was also one of the more popular stops and Fraser Post Office until 1904. Built around 1874 by William Zane Cozens, it remains today, outfitted in period décor and is the home of the Cozens Ranch History Museum.  

The Gaskill House, in Fraser was built by Lewis De Witt Clinton Gaskill, one of the original investors in the road and a prominent Grand County citizen. The house now houses the Hungry Bear Restaurant.

Junction House at Junction Ranch (Tabernash) could accommodate up to fifty travelers and was built by Quincy Adams Rollins, and subsequently leased to Johnson Turner.   

The Coulter Stage Stop was built by John Coulter, an attorney from George town and shareholder in the stage road.  It also served as a Post Office from 1884 to 1905. 

Frank and Fred Selak, sons of a pioneer Georgetown brewer ran the Selak stop which was north of Granby and east of current Hwy. 34.           

Cottonwood Divide (Pass), at 8904 feet above sea level, was laid out by Edward Berthoud and Redwood Fisher in 1861.  The route was used by stagecoaches from 1874 until the railroad arrived at Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905.  The last driver on the route was Charlie Purcell.  Summer travel time between Hot Sulphur Springs and Georgetown was typically twelve hours. Travelers between Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling could stop at the Barney Day or King Ranches, both near current Hwy. 40.   The Pinney Ranch House, used by the firm of Whipple and Metcalf for the connecting service to Steamboat Springs, is still standing on Hwy. 134 on the east slope of Gore Pass. There a traveler could pay 50 cents for a meal, 50 cents for a bed and expect a change of horses every ten miles.  It ceased operation in 1908 when the railroad reached Toponas.  

Topic: Biographies

Isabella Bird

In Yorkshire, England on October 15th 1831, a clergyman and the daughter of a clergyman gave birth to small, sickly girl who would grow up to be one of the most well known travel writers of her time, an exceptional accomplishment in an era when women rarely ventured far from home unescorted. In 1850, after a childhood full of ailments, Isabella had an only partially successful operation to remove a tumor from her spine. Following the surgery, Isabella suffered greatly from depression and insomnia; it was then that her doctor recommended that she travel.  Isabella's father, becoming increasingly worried about his daughter, gave her a hundred pounds and sent her off to see the world.

Ms. Bird traveled throughout the world including Canada, Hawaii, Australia, China, Tibet and Morocco.  She came to Colorado right after the territory had officially been become a state. Isabella loved it in the mountains, so much so that she wrote many letters home to her sister which eventually came to become her third and most famous book, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. In this document, Isabella wrote of her adoration of the area saying, "I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one's life and sigh."

Upon her arrival to Colorado, she traveled into the mountains west of Estes Park. She wrote about adventures and challenges and of her romance with Jim Nugent, or "Rocky Mountain Jim" a one eyed outlaw with an attraction to violence and poetry. He was shot and killed a year after Isabella left Colorado.

Throughout the letters, Isabella mentions the wonderful sights of the lands she explored near current day Grand County.  In one of her letters, Isabella wrote of the time she rode a horse through a blizzard with her eyes frozen shut.  She found herself in another adventure when she was snowed in a cabin with two young men for several months.

Isabella grew eventually grew homesick and headed back to Edinburgh Scotland where she married a doctor. After five years of marriage, her husband died and Isabella returned to travelling. When Isabella returned to Edinburgh in 1904, she grew very ill and died while planning another trip to China.

Topic: Regions

The Troublesome

Tradition holds that an army party led by one Lt. Col Johns gave the name of Troublesome to what had sometimes been called Oties Creek.  The Army was plotting a road in 1865 and had to go north to the forks of the East and West Troublesome in order to cross it, because of the soft soil, thereby being a “troublesome” creek.  Some historians claim that mountain man “Colorado Charley” Utter had built a cabin on the creek in 1861, which became a popular stopping place for early hunters and trappers in the region.  Another report credits John S. Jones of Empire with a cabin near the mouth of the Blue River, a few miles away, that same year.

Among the earliest settlers on the Troublesome were Barney Day, Henry King and Martin “Dock” McQueary, who had a cabin there in 1871.  In 1878, a post office was established at the King home. 

By the end of the century, many ranches had been established at on Troublesome Creek.  Farthest upstream was the remote George Hendricks ranch, difficult to reach year round and totally cut off from the rest of the world during winter snow.  Mrs. Hendricks had a large library and gave her children a sound education prior to their high school years in Kremmling. 

Among the most prominent ranches were those of George and Forrest Wheatly.  Probably the largest ranch (3000 acres) was that of the family of Con Ritschard, lying just north of current day U.S. Highway 40 east of Troublesome Creek.

Life was hard for the settlers in the area.  Like much of Grand County, the soil was frozen as deep as eight feet in the winter.  One memoir noted that when there was a death in the winter, the corpse was placed in the roof of a cabin, well swathed, until the spring thaw allowed for permanent burial.

There was a six year school (second to seventh grade) and a post office established at Pearmont about half way up the Troublesome, in the 1920s.  This area was named for local settler Gus Pearson.

Ranching was not the only pursuit along the Troublesome Creek.  Settler Roy Polhamos grew lettuce and shipped it through the Granby Cooperative to Denver.  He also had a potato contract with one of the Denver grocers.  Other growers contributed to the 125 refrigerated train carloads of lettuce that were shipped from Granby in 1924.  By 1929, 34 farmed from Granby to Troublesome netted $46,000, a highly respectable profit in those days.

Topic: True Crime

Sudden Death in Old Arrow

A shooting in the Old West I know was not much like the shootings on television today.  There was no glorification of the bad man. Killings were usually like the fatal shooting of Indian Tom on that 6th of September, 1906, in old Arrowhead (or Arrow).  Nobody called anybody out.  Nobody told anybody to draw or asked him if he was wearing a gun.  It wasn’t a fight. It was a killing.  

1906 Arrow had six saloons, a grocery store, one small hotel and a livery stable.  But two thousand people picked up their mail there.  The woods were full of tie-hacks: the three sawmills hired may lumberjacks and teamsters, most of them Swedes, who seemed to make the best lumbermen.   I had arrived in Arrow the 18th of April that year to work as a teamster for my brother Virgil, who had been operating a sawmill there for about a year.  I was just sixteen. 

My brother Dick, the tallest Lininger, had been Virgil’s foreman.  Virgil had also bought the only hotel in Arrow.  My mother, two sisters and my little brother Gilbert and I came from our farm in Osawatomie, Kansas, so that my mother could run the hotel. My brother Wesley came at that time too: he planned to buy a lot and build a café.  Whole families often followed the first member who had come to these early Colorado towns.   I soon discovered that driving logging horses needed a lot more technique than driving a small farm team, but Virgil was patient, and I soon received a raise to $2.75 a day as top teamster.  

 The town was a wide open as it could get.  My first introduction to the violence was the day my brother Dick fired three drunken lumberjacks.  They drew their pay and went to Graham’s saloon to get drunker. As dick passed the saloon later, one of the men grabbed a quart whiskey bottle, and ran out and struck Dick behind the ear, knocking him cold.  The three then proceeded to kick him around.  Dick’s roommate Charley came to my brother’s rescue.  When Dick came to, he started for the hotel.  Charley guessed what he was after and beat him to the six-shooter. “I’ll make sure you can taken them one at a time” Charley promised him.   I came along just as my brother knocked the pick from the pick handle.  Something was up! In less time than it takes to tell it, Dick had three drunks out cold. 

Mother patched Dick up.  I think this was her introduction, too.  A man couldn’t stay boss long if stayed whipped.   Every other Sunday was a holiday for me although I always saw to it that I put in enough overtime to bring my monthly paycheck to $75. That September Sunday I was dressed in my holiday garb – tan peg-top dress corduroys, light blue wool shirt, Western hat, and high-laces boots as befitting a teamster who drove four or six horses hauling logs from timber country to the saw mill.  When I drove six horses, I rode one of the wheel-team horses and held the lines over four.  If I drove four horses, I rode the wagon and sat on a sack of hay.  

About noon, I stopped in front of the MacDonald saloon to talk to Ed MacDonald, one of the few saloon men my mother didn’t disapprove of.  After all, Ed had come to Colorado as a TB and couldn’t do heavy work; filling glasses over a bar was about the only light work in those old mountain towns.  Later Ed owned the famous MacDonald Ranch on the South Fork of the Grand Rover – now Colorado River- and managed boats on Monarch Lake just above his ranch.  He always served great dinners and good food.   While Ed and I were talking, Indian Tom rode up.  He was a flashy cowboy of the old school, a very good looking man with predominantly Indian features although he was only half Cherokee. When riding, Tom always wore leather chaps, spurs, and a big Stetson.  As wagon foreman for Orman and Crook, contractors for building the Moffat Road, he was a very important figure, for he had charge of all their wagons and teamsters.   The greeting between Ed and Tom was cordial. 

Everyone liked Indian Tom.  When Tom learned I was a teamster for my brother Virgil, Tom showed a much keener interest and invited me in to MacDonald’s for a drink.  Ed rescued me.  “Oh the kids doesn’t drink; but he might like a cigar”.   As they ordered drinks, I puffed away in my best imitation of a Kentucky colonel; however I soon excused myself, saying that I had to target my 30-30 rifle for the upcoming deer season. I puffed until I was out of sight. The corn silk I had scorched behind the barn paid off. I didn’t disgrace myself, nor had I broken my pledge to my mother not to gamble, use profanity, drink, or perform any act inconsistent with the conduct of a gentleman.   I took my rifle northwest of Arrow to Fawn Creek. 

It was a beautiful fall day.  The aspen were just beginning to turn.  Fawn Creek Gulch had been burned over many years before by the Indians who hoped in this way to discourage settlers, and the aspen were all young, straight and shimmering in the way that has never ceased to delight me.  The fire thirty years before had made the gulch an excellent place for deer hunting because the new growth gave the deer some inviting protection, but the terrain was open enough for a hunter to locate his game.   I figured I’d have to shoot from at least 200 yards, so I planned to target for that distance.  I tacked a piece of cardboard I’d cut from my brother’s Stetson hat box (he never took off his Stetson off anyway) to a tree and stepped off the 200 yards.  That 6-inch target looked pretty small but after each three shots, I’d examine the target.  Finally satisfied, I took a long walk looking for deer sign, tracks, or droppings.  I found good sign but no droppings.   About feeding time for the horses, I went back to the barn in town to feed the four, Cap, the big bay, Bird, the glossy black (those were my two wheel horses- t e ones next to the wheel); Kate, the little lead horse; and Bud, her mate.  

Virgil had bought Kate, a grey mare weighing about 1400 pounds, at a very reasonable price from the Adams Express Company because she had run away at every opportunity and had destroyed several wagons.  He couldn’t run away now pulling Cap, Bird and a load of lumber with her, but her high spirits made her an excellent leader. The heavier team, always used as the wheel team, weighed about 1700 pounds each.   I was very proud of this unusually fine team.  Virgil had trained Cap and Bird so that after they were harnessed in the barn, they could be turned loose to go to the watering trough, drink long and thirstily, then walk out to the wagon, back into position by the tongue, and stand ready to have the breast straps snapped in place and the tongue attached.     When tourists trains stopped and hundreds of passengers stood around the eating places looking the town over, I’d drive slowly by, and then stop to rest the team a minute, to give the dudes a chance to see a good, four-horse team. Then with a single “Yup!” I’d pull all the lines tight, and they’d start as one horse while the tourists explained and pointed.  

That Sunday after I put a gallon of oats in their food box and shook some hay into their manger, I left the barn and started up the steps alongside the depot.  It was still light; the sky hadn’t even begun to color.   Time to head home for supper.  I’d have to be up, hitched and pulled by seven the next morning. We’d probably have roast beef or roast chicken with noodles, since it was Sunday.  Mother would be cooking on the big wood-burning stove at the hotel, and my sisters would be taking the heaping platters to the tables where everyone would pass them around.  Probably there would be hot biscuits.  

Suddenly a shot cracked just above me and across the street.  I knew instantly it had come from the Wolf Saloon ahead.  It wasn’t common to hear shots in those days.  You hear more in a 20-minute Western on TV than you heard in a couple of years unless a few boys rode into town on a Saturday night to shoot up the air.   I broke into a run and could see a man lying on the board walk in front of the saloon.  As I got to him, one of the ladies I wasn’t permitted to mention came out and fell to her knees beside him. Raising the man’s head, she tried to pour whiskey down his throat.  With a queer, paralyzed feeling, I realized it was Indian Tom.  I reached for his wrist.  His hand was warm as life, but there was no pulse. Several men ran our.  “Ragland got him!” one of them shouted.  

We carried Tom’s body into MacDonald’s and laid him on a roulette table that was in the back room for repair.  Somebody went to wire for the sheriff at Hot Sulphur Springs.  Word soon reached Orman and Crook’s, and the Indian’s many friends began to jam into Arrow.    Indian Tom and Ragland had evidently had words during the afternoon and had quarrels once more before at a rodeo.  The women from the saloon said that when Indian Tom left after the quarrel, Ragland had stationed himself, gun in hand, inside the saloon door.  Everyone agreed that Ragland knew he wouldn’t have had a chance in a fair fight with Tom.  The moment they heard Tom’s spurs outside , Ragland pushed the door slightly open and shot point blank through the aperture along the hinge.  The he ran out the back door.   We searched the town inside and out for Ragland. The sheriff joined is in the search late that night, but we found no trace of him.  Just after midnight a wire came for the sheriff. Ragland had turned himself in at Hot Sulphur.  We learned later he had run to a ranch down below, borrowed a horse and ridden for his life.   A coroner’s jury was called. 

My brother Virgil, named foreman, took a firm stand.  The only verdict he intended to take out of that room was murder, and, after only a few hours, that was their verdict.  After three days, Ragland was released on $3,000 bond posted by his father, but you may be sure he didn’t show himself around Arrow.  His attorney, John A. DeWeese, got a change of venue from Grand County to Jefferson County at Golden, claiming an article in the Middle Park Times of September 7, 1906, reporting the verdict of the coroner’s jury, made it impossible for Ragland to get a fair trial in Hot Sulphur.  The article said in part: Four witnesses for the prosecution, and seven for the Defendant were examined, making eleven in all.  The testimony of the witnesses on both sides failed to show that the shooting was justifiable.  According to the testimony, the fatal shot was fired when Reynolds (Tom) had his revolver in his scabbard and when he did not even see Ragland who was standing opposite the cut-off. (As told to Donna Geyer by A.W. Lininger)                     

Christmas at Fraser

The lights dimmed; mothers had already found their seats after coming from the classrooms where they had put makeup on little children’s faces and checked their costumes to make sure angel wings and halos were secure and costumes were on right side round.  I was at the piano, music and script lined out. The gym was full to the brim, every seat taken, with folks lining the sides and back walls, for the whole town had turned out.  Early birds got the seats!  Christmas wasn’t Christmas in the Fraser Valley unless it included the program at Fraser School (now the Town Hall).   I began the overture and chatter stopped.   I had played for this event for ages, starting in 1958.  High school students were gone by then, moved to the new Union High School in Granby, but 7th and 8th graders were still there.  And in 1958, the first kindergartens in the district were established.   It was a time of excitement and anticipation, of fun, and of panic? Well, no, not panic, for the teachers were beautifully organized. 

The program was chosen during October. Each teacher had a specific job. For instance, Martha Vernon, the art teacher, did sets.  Helen Hurtgen was responsible for dialog.  Edith Hill did costumes.  Nancy Bowlby was in charge of the music.  Others coordinated the whole.  And I played the piano, with Nancy sometimes accompanying me on her violin.  

Mothers were asked to contribute sheets and any fabric they could spare.  Patterns and material for costumes went home to be sewn into various sizes and shapes -- angels, gingerbread men, knights or royalty.  In the gym, we stitched on finishing touches, bright patches to decorate jester outfits, townspeople, and such, while watching various groups practice. Bits of tinsel became crowns, tinfoil turned into wands, cheesecloth into wings.  Lace scraps and sequins added color and “class.”   The budget was extremely minimal at first, but over the years, more money was directed to Christmas programs.  Instead of old sheets, we could buy cotton fabrics, velveteens, sometimes satin.  One year I even stopped by a furrier’s in Denver and begged some fur scraps.  Were we uptown then!  We had fur trim around the necks, cuffs, and hems of the costumes for the prince, queen, and king.  

The day before the play, PTA mothers gathered in the gym to fill brown paper sacks with an apple, orange, nuts, and candies, provided by R. L. Cogdell from his grocery store.  

Every single child in school took part in the play, as a class, except for those with speaking parts, of course.  Fraser grew and grew, then as now. Soon the 7th and 8th grades moved to Granby.  Then the 6th graders went, but the 4th and 5th graders handled the leads neatly.  Our stories were usually simple Christmas tales, but sometimes we tackled ambitious efforts such as the Nutcracker Suite or a version of Gilbert and Sullivan.   The only children not included were the Jehovah Witness youngsters.  They couldn’t be in the play and they couldn’t come watch it either.  We all felt very sorry for them, because everyone had such a wonderful time.  Their teachers tried to give them special projects to entertain and interest them while they sat off in a corner or in their classrooms.   The plays always went well.  Tiny kindergartners came out onto the stage, to stand behind the colored lights.  They knew their song perfectly in practices, but I have to admit that a number of them usually stood silent, stunned by that mass of faces looking up at them.  No matter.  They were darling. “Hi, Mom,” some were sure to call. “Mom” beamed.  

There might be a glitch or two every year. For instance, little Diane was chosen to do the Arabian dance in Nutcracker Suite.  Her parents were dark, as she was, and she was slender as a dancer. Trouble was, she didn’t have an ounce of grace in her body at that stage of her life.  I thought Nancy Bowlby was going to have grey hair before she got that child moving properly.  But the night of the program, Diane looked like Anitra herself, doing her exotic dance.   One year the king jumped his cue and entered on stage.  His first words were, “Did I miss anything?”  The prince muttered, in an aside, “Yes, three pages!”  But the cast went on as if nothing had happened, while down at the piano I sat, flipping pages rapidly, trying to figure out where the dialog was now.  

Another year, our son James was to take part in a minuet.  “Uck!  I have to touch a girl?”  By the greatest good fortune, he broke his leg and got to be a guard at the palace door, standing at attention on crutches, while another boy took his place.  (I think he did that on purpose.)   Songs and parts were adapted to the talents of the students.  We had five boys once, who couldn’t talk, dance, sing -- anything.  So they wore monks’ costumes and filed on stage, supposedly singing a Christmas carol, but supported strongly by the cast present.   Another time, Twyla’s parents couldn’t come, so Miss Vernon took her home to get ready. Now, Twyla usually looked like a dirty ragamuffin, but after a bath and hair wash, she truly looked like the angel she portrayed.   For the finale, the entire school came on stage to sing a last carol, with the audience joining in.  Then Santa showed up to distribute the goodie sacks, and the great night was over.  Coming out into the quiet night was a wonderful feeling.  Sometimes we moved through drifts of new falling snow; sometimes the sky was filled with icy stars.  Gay lights showed in windows throughout town. 

We never talked much on the way home, as we thought of the play, the success of everyone¹s efforts, and how happy the children had made their parents and families.   My last program was the first year after the new school was built.  It was fun still, but the school population had grown enough that it was impossible for whole classes to participate as one. Things weren’t the same as they were in the little old school.

Murphy Family

October 2009

As late as this summer, John Murphy, 94, mowed ditches on his ranch land and built a new fence. "You got to keep busy doing something," he said. His longevity, he said smiling at wife Carolyn across the table, is owed to "having a good wife to keep you healthy."

And then he added, "and being stubborn and contrary, I guess." But, Carolyn believes John's secret to healthy aging is due to "hard physical labor from an early age," plus the privilege of being raised where there is good air, little junk food, fresh vegetables, fresh milk daily and ranch-harvested meat. Dancing and regular rodeo jaunts also don't hurt.

This week, the Murphys are pausing to acknowledge a 100-year milestone, when John's parents first bought the ranch in greater Granby. John Murphy was born in the family's white two-story ranch house, which still stands on the property, six years after his parents Anna (Rohracher) and James Murphy bought 160 acres from Leopold Mueller in 1909. He had purchased the land from the widow of Edward Weber, who was one of the Grand County commissioners shot in the Grand Lake shoot-out of 1883. Weber's grave is still surrounded by a white-picket fence, located just northwest from the Murphys' newer home.

Mother Anna had crossed the ocean from Austria in 1882 with her family, then in the spring of 1884, they walked over Rollins Pass from Ward to homestead at Eight-Mile Creek south of Granby. The town of Granby didn't sprout until the railroad came through in the early 1900s, so twice a year, the family would travel over Berthoud to Georgetown to buy groceries - a testament to the fortitude people had back then. "How often do you go for groceries now?" John asked. "Twice a day?"

Anna and James married in March of 1907 and had three children: Margaret, James and John. When John was just two years old, his father died and his mother was left to care for the ranch and the three young children. She later married Joseph Reinhardt who had the ranch above theirs.

Upon her death in 1952 at the age of 75, "The Middle Park Times" saluted Anna for having been "a hardy pioneer woman" who prided herself for her ability to horseback ride and milk cows, and called the latter a "fine art rather than a chore."

"It was a pleasure for her to sit down and milk cows," John said. "That's when she could rest. She would milk half of the cows while me and my step-dad milked the other half."

The ranch had about 35 cows, and the cream and milk they produced was shipped to Denver where it was sold. When the lettuce colonies came to the Granby area around the early 1920s, the Murphy ranch prospered selling milk and butter to local settlers.  "Where the airport is now, there was a shack or tent on every 10 acres over there," he said, "and five packing warehouses along the railroad." Even a section of Murphy land was leased to grow lettuce and spinach.

When young boys, John and his brother would sometimes find entertainment riding on the backs of calves in the barn - always out of sight from their mother who would have disapproved, he said. And the younger John would horseback to the Granby schoolhouse located across from the present day Granby Community Center.

Back then, Granby was barely a settlement, and the Murphys' closest neighbor was farther than a mile away. Granby, especially, has grown in the past 20 years, threatening the lifestyle he has known all his life. In the past, ranching families made up the community, and neighbors looked out for one another, he said. "There was kind of a togetherness," he said. "Now we don't have that."

Nodding to the golf courses and newer homes surrounding Granby proper, "We're losing it, losing all the ranchers," he said. "Like any piece of property, I hate to see it change hands, but progress happens and there's nothing you can do about it."

John Murphy began running the ranch in 1934 and his older brother James ran another ranch near Fraser, land the brothers originally had purchased together.
John's first wife Edith died during childbirth, and John became a single dad to a daughter and son who were 2 and 4 years old at the time, running the ranch and raising his children like his own mother did when he was a toddler.

At its height, John Murphy's commercial cattle operation had about 2,000 acres and about 120 pair of cows and calves, with the calves selling at the top of the market in Omaha. John said from working his land for hay through the years, he has found buffalo horns. "There must have been quite a few buffalo here in the 1800s," he said. The land has since been leased, split, and some shared with John's family, including daughter Jennifer Baker and son Steve Murphy.

Although the winters are no longer as harsh as he remembers them - "It would get 30 to 40 below for the whole month," he said - he and wife Carolyn now winter in Arizona. John met Carolyn in the 1970s, and the couple would dance at haunts such as the Circle H and Hazel Mosle's (now Johnson's Landing). "I just held the girls, and they did the dancing," John said. "She complained I held her too tight," he said, of Carolyn. "And she's been suffering every since."

Topic: Biographies
, Gram Wood on horseback

Lillian Russell Smith Wood - "Gram" Wood

, Gram Wood on horseback

Lillian Russell Smith Wood was born in Dunlap, Kansas, in 1884, she was not a particularly healthy child.  Born just before her and just after her were sets of twins, 2 of the 4 sets born to her parents and the only 2 sets that survived into adulthood.  Lillian spent her adult years on the Williams Fork and then in Parshall. Known as “Gram” Wood to most everyone who knew her, she was grandmother to 39 who bear the names Wood, Noell, Stack, and Black.  And her history in Grand County beginning in 1905 made her one of our pioneers. 

In the fall of 1905, the local newspapers report that Herb Wood had lost a large portion of his right hand in an ore crusher accident.  Herb had come into Summit County originally with a mule team for “Uncle Joe” Coberly, another Williams Fork resident and apparently worked in or around mines and mining equipment while also hauling the timbers for mine use.  Herb needed some round the clock nursing, and in those days, for Gram to take proper care of him and still be in an acceptable position, they needed to be married. One source says the situation was so different that a Denver newspaper picked up the story with a headline of “Loses Three Fingers, Wins a Bride”, indicating that they married 3 days after they met.  Research has never turned up a trace of that story, and it’s unlikely in the mining camps in the area that they hadn’t met until he was injured.  Still, they were married by Judge Swisher, well known area businessman, in short order in the hotel room where Herb was recovering .  A short time later they made a brief wedding trip to Denver and then returned to Argentine.

Before fall set in that year, the newly married couple moved to the Little Muddy.  Herb had been sending money to a partner who was helping him to secure a homestead there not far from where Joe Coberly lived.  It was probably with anticipation of a great future on their own land that sent them into Middle Park to face their first winter as a couple without having had a chance to raise a garden or preserve any winter supplies.  They moved into one end of a two room cabin with a man named Ranger Charlie in the other.  And about that same time, they discovered that Herb’s partner had been drinking the money he’d sent over the years.  What devastation that must have caused!

On the other side of the valley just across the creek was the large  ranching operation known as the Hermosa Ranch, owned by Dr. T. F. DeWitt, a well-to-do doctor from back East.  With the dream of his homestead gone, Herb went to work for DeWitt, eventually becoming one of his foremen.  Gram probably helped out with cooking and cleaning, but within a few months, she went back to Kansas to await the birth of their first child. Over the next 21 years, she raised kids and gardens and developed her love of fishing, which helped feed a family that eventually totaled 13 kids, including a set of twins born 2 weeks before Christmas and delivered by Herb when a doctor couldn’t reach them in time. Pictures of the time show a large family of 9 boys and 4 girls with Gram, all 5’2” and maybe 100 pounds of her on one end, and Herb with a child or two on his lap at the other.  The kids recall Christmases being supplied mostly by Mrs. DeWitt and sometimes being late if the trains got snowed out of the area. All attended one room schools, Hermosa and Columbine, and stories of their lives together can make one wonder why any of them survived.

Life continued  pretty much routinely until 1928.  That summer, the youngest daughter, Marilyn, a premature baby and ailing child caught whooping cough.  She lingered and languished until early October, and then she passed away.  The close-knit family had suffered it’s first loss. Two weeks later, Herb came in from the hayfield complaining of not feeling well.  Gram followed him into the living room and sat down with him on the couch. Minutes later, he collapsed in her arms and died of a cerebral hemorrhage.  They buried him alongside Marilyn in the Hot Sulphur Springs Cemetery.

The boys continued the work for Dr. DeWitt for several years, and in 1932, they built a 2 bedroom house for Gram several miles from where DeWitt had relocated his ranch.  Her sons made sure she had what she needed as she finished raising the youngest ones who had been little more than toddlers when Herb died.

By the time I was old enough to remember much about Gram, she was already a “little old lady” who lived in a small, pink mobile home next to Uncle Kenneth in Parshall. Everyone knew that she was one of the best fishermen in the country, having caught as many as 1200 in a season when she was feeding her family by herself.  She enjoyed creek fishing the most, and even as she got older her ability to maneuver around the biggest holes and catch fish in any small body of water never faltered.   I never saw her get wet.

In the winter, she was totally unafraid getting a couple of her grandkids on a sled and making a run down the hill in Parshall that ended at the store and U.S. 40, which then went through the center of town.  Had her feet not worked so well as brakes, we could have ended up on the pavement.  But we never did.

She must have driven many teams of horses in her day, and I believe she was a good rider. She never drove a car, but unless she needed to go to the doctor in Kremmling, she didn’t need to leave town. Her friends included Doc Ceriani’s mother and fellow fishermen from Hot Sulphur, a couple from Poland with heavy accents.  Somehow, somewhere she had met Ralph Moody, author of the “Little Britches” series. And she, too, had a “fish” experience with warden Henry “Rooster” Wilson.

Only once did I get into trouble because of Gram.  She was fishing one day near where I was getting ready to ride, when she laid down her pole and walked over to me.  After watching me for a minute she said, “Can I ride?”  What do you say to your 80 year old grandmother but, “Of course!”  I saddled up the gentlest mare we had and helped her aboard.  She only made a couple of trips around the small pasture, but as she rode, walking only, I’m sure I saw a young woman next to her husband on horseback in front of one of the Hermosa’s big barns.  It’s one of the pictures you’ll find at the County Museum in Hot Sulphur.  When dad found out what I’d done, he turned deathly white.  “Don’t you know if she’d fallen or been thrown she could have been seriously injured or killed?”  No, I had to admit.  This was one rider’s request to another, with age no consideration .  And to her at that particular moment, had either occurred I believe she would have considered those few moments worth the risk.  When she was finished, she walked back to her fishing pole, satisfied that nowshe was done riding.

Gram introduced me to horehound candy, something I will also think about each time I taste it.  And because she didn’t like my first name, I didn’t even know what it was until I started school.  She taught me that barn cats do fish and that survival in a small living space was possible The one thing she didn’t teach me was anything about her growing up years or about my grandfather.  It seemed like we knew as very young kids that we didn’t ask about him.  I believe that hers was a love so strong that even to the point where her mind grew dim, the pain of losing him was too much to bear.  One regret we all have, however, is that we never asked to her to go with us up to Summit County to show us where she lived and to tell us stories of that life and time.  And unfortunately that’s been lost forever. Gram passed away in 1980, at the age of 97.  She is buried with Marilyn and Herb and their son, Melvin who died during World War II in a family plot in Hot Sulphur with other family and pioneers characters nearby.

She left a true legacy through her kids and grandkids who continue the nostalgic traditions of their beloved Gram.

Ranching